Tesco drops avocado supplier after allegations of rights abuse

Tesco has dropped one of its avocado suppliers pending an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses at a plantation in Kenya.

The UK’s largest supermarket told the Financial Times on Sunday that it had “suspended all supply” from Kenyan agricultural company Kakuzi, following an investigation by the Sunday Times. The UK-listed company Camellia owns 50.7 per cent of Kakuzi.

The Sunday Times report alleged that guards employed by Kakuzi had over the past decade beaten, raped and murdered people living near the plantation.

“Any form of human rights abuse in our supply chain is unacceptable,” Tesco said. It added that it had been working with the Ethical Trading Initiative, a group of companies, unions and NGOs that monitor supply chains, to investigate the problem and ensure measures had been taken to protect workers.

“However, in light of additional allegations published today, we have suspended all supply whilst we urgently investigate,” Tesco said.

Kazuki said it did not “condone any criminal activities or behaviour by any of its employees”. It has directed Kenya’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate the allegations and “take actions in accordance with the law”.

Camellia said it did not have “operational or managerial control, nor control of [Kazuki’s] board”.

J Sainsbury and Lidl, which also source avocados from Kakuzi, did not immediately say whether they planned to continue buying produce from the company, but confirmed they were participating in the ETI investigation.

The ETI said its members were first made aware of “serious allegations” against Kakuzi in April last year and that companies in the supply chain had paid for a review of the claims, prompting a “corrective action plan” that Kakuzi began implementing in February.

It said Kakuzi had taken “positive steps” but that a further update had been delayed because of the pandemic.

Law firm Leigh Day said on Sunday it had launched a lawsuit against Camellia on behalf of 79 Kenyans who claim to have suffered abuse from guards employed by Kakuzi.

Camellia employs 78,000 people worldwide and says it is the largest avocado producer in Kenya, which according to the International Trade Centre is Africa’s biggest avocado exporter.

Leigh Day said the Kakuzi plantation, north-east of Nairobi, is on land that was either bought when Kenya was a British colony or seized from local communities during the 1950s. This means that water sources, roads and schools belonging to the communities cross into land controlled by Kakuzi, the law firm said.

Kakuzi said in a statement that “as far as we know, few of these accusations have ever been reported to Kakuzi or the Kenyan authorities”, adding that the anonymity of the victims had “hindered any investigation to get justice for those who seek it”.

It did, however, say that “the unfortunate death” of a 28-year-old man, whom the Sunday Times claimed was beaten to death for allegedly stealing avocados, had led to a settlement.

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